I’m not a military man, but I got to drive my first tank in 1980. I crashed it. The only bruise was to my ego, and the only loss was 100 feet of film. Had they survived, the images would have been beautiful. I took it pretty hard. I don’t like losing beautiful images.
30 years have passed and I just drove a new, high-tech tank across Idaho last week. This time the images survived. And they are beautiful beyond description.
Tank number one was World War II era. I was taking my first college photography course. My professor handed me a Bell and Howell “Filmo” wind-up 16mm film camera and told me to go play with it.
It really was a tank. Made of solid cast aluminum (or iron, for all I know), it was indestructible. It was a 1940’s Army workhorse that had captured newsreels in European or Pacific Island trenches. It had the amazing feature of undercranking or overcranking depending on the tension of the key-wound spring that drove the clock-like motor. The downside, of course, was that the speed would change as the tension relaxed. So it was part of the surprise to find out which of your footage was slo-mo or fast-mo! Wind ‘er up like a little toy soldier and let her rip off 4 minutes per 100-foot load. I was in love.
And it was the perfect size. Palm-size if you had a big palm. For me, it was hang-glider size. First chance I got, I gaff taped that solid little tank to the wing of a friend’s prop-powered hang-glider. It had a wide little lens and I knew I was finally going to share what it was to be a bird. I wound the key and he took off. Though watching from below, feet firmly on airport tarmac, I was on-air knowing that I was capturing 4 minutes of freedom.
I had thought about the design of bird wings for most of my life. But I had never considered bird legs. Turns out that they are engineered to absorb the shock of landing. Gaff tape is strong, but part of its beauty is that it can also tear. I don’t need to say much more. Just picture glider wheels slamming runway and a little tank of a camera cart-wheeling forever down the tarmac. And cart-wheeling with the camera was an unraveling spool of sun-exposed film. A 100-foot ribbon of dreams twisting and swirling into a rat’s nest of nightmare. The Filmo’s only weak spot was the lock on its magazine door.
Fast forward 30 years. I was a little more careful with tank number two. In fact, this time four of us babied it like a newborn. This new tank is tough, but it’s also ultra-state-of-the-art, ultra-sophisticated, and ultra-high tech. It doesn’t have a wind-up key. It doesn’t have a magazine door. It doesn’t even shoot film! But the digital images it produces look incredibly like 35mm film. That’s a good thing after passing through the age of video.
The new tank is called the RED ONE. It’s a digital cinema camera…not a film or video camera…and it’s helping to spark a revolution in the industry. I’ll let you go to www.red.com/cameras/ for details straight from the maker.
I call it a tank because it’s a serious camera. There is nothing plastic or prosumer about it. With professional add-ons like rails, matt boxes, lenses, and monitors, it’s heavy. You won’t “run and gun” with a fully loaded RED. But it’s solid, and it seems to have all the engineering of an M1 Abrams.
Wide Eye Productions had the fortune of securing a contract with the State of Idaho to update Idaho tourism promotion assets to meet the mix of marketing opportunities that have exploded with the digital age. The state wanted the best quality pictures possible to carry into the future, and the RED ONE camera fit the bill. In rough terms, the RED doubles the resolution of high definition, so these new assets are meant to be viable through the next revolution of the digital age.
Enough technical, let’s get to the fun stuff. Idaho is a gorgeous and diverse state, and it’s a pretty sweet gig to be chosen to document that beauty. Tom, Andy, intern Will, and I were all pretty stoked when we set out for the central Sawtooth Mountains and their wealth of surrounding lakes. A glowing mountain sunset was followed by a misty mountain morning, and we were off to the eastern edge of the state to capture the famous Henry’s Fork of the Snake River for some spectacular evening fly-fishing with a Grand Tetons backdrop. Add in breathtaking Upper and Lower Mesa Falls and a variety of additional eastern Idaho stops, and you find that you just can’t stop shooting! And because the RED ONE accepts prime lenses, we could achieve unbelievably shallow depths of field while buried in fields of wildflowers.
It’s a dreamy look that can’t be matched by anything other than expensive film. It was shallow focus, golden light footage for a week, capping the trip with Shoshone Falls and Bruneau Dunes. But we couldn’t stop ourselves. With the RED ONE, we had to swing by Thousand Springs even though it wasn’t on our travel list. We knew that a canoe in the crystal water that flows past a multitude of shoreline falls would be killer, and we weren’t going to let the chance slip by. Lucky me! I got to paddle the canoe while Andy, Will, and Tom manned the RED.
It was a great trip and we achieved great results. And the good news is, we’re only half done! Soon we’ll take the modern RED tank to northern Idaho to capture all if its beauty in ultra high definition. And don’t forget Idaho’s beautiful winters. I’m praying we get to make the loop when the snow flies too.
In 1980, when I saw that film come spiraling out of the old Bell and Howell “Filmo” tank, I felt a blow in the pit in my stomach that I thought would always linger. Now I can let it go. A more modern tank has provided the power to share dramatic images of a state I love. And I didn’t lose a frame. It doesn’t get any better than that.
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