MICHELE NORRIS, host:
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A new camera has the entertainment industry on fast forward. It's cheap, but it shoots images that look like high quality film. And it wasn't even designed to be a video camera.
From member station WPLN, Blake Farmer reports.
(Soundbite of crowd)
Mr. DAVID LAVENDER: All right. Band ready? Crowd ready to party?
(Soundbite of cheering)
Unidentified Woman: Yeah.
Mr. LAVENDER: Let's do it.
BLAKE FARMER: And action or are we saying cheese here? What David Lavender is holding looks like a camera an aspiring photographer might use for snapshots at a birthday party, the kind with detachable lenses. They're called digital SLRs or DSLRs. But the new models take video, and it's now changing the entire industry.
In this case, it's a music video for a new Nashville band with a throwback feel called Humming House. Three cameras are rolling as couples swing dance on a hardwood floor. Lavender says with a $100,000 film camera or high-end HD...
Mr. LAVENDER: No chance we could have afforded to have three cameras here all running at once, so...
FARMER: A couple thousand dollars gets the best DSLR on the market made by Canon or Nikon. The low cost has sprouted a crop of newcomers like this company, Yeah Yeah Creative. Tyler Evans calls the cameras their secret weapon.
Mr. TYLER EVANS (Owner/Creative Director, Yeah Yeah Creative): Our work so far has sort of proven it, and it's surprising to us because we are very new. But the cameras make us look a little bit better than we might be.
FARMER: There are a few trade-offs. Zooming on the fly isn't easy, and the audio typically has to be recorded separately. But a whole cottage industry has sprung up to accessorize. In the end, amateurs get the ability to shoot like pros. Some pros are turning to DSLRs too.
(Soundbite of TV series, "House M.D.")
Ms. LISA EDELSTEIN (Actress): (as Dr. Lisa Cuddy) A crane collapsed in downtown Trenton.
Mr. HUGH LAURIE (Actor): (as Dr. Gregory House) Don't care.
FARMER: Last year's season finale of the Fox drama "House" was shot on these still camera descendants. The show's director called them the future, complimenting the rich picture. NFL Films, long known for sticking to actual film, has even played with DSLRs.
Coming from the other side of the image world, still photographers all of a sudden have movie-making potential.
Mr. STEPHEN ALVAREZ (Photojournalist): My name is Stephen Alvarez. I'm a photographer, a photojournalist. I've been working for National Geographic for 15 years.
FARMER: Alvarez recently shot a mini-documentary for NPR about prostitution in Nashville.
Mr. ALVAREZ: It's a very filmic look. The cameras have a very large sensor so that gives you the ability to shoot with very, very narrow depth of field. If I want to, I can shoot a video of you talking and just have your eyeball in focus and everything else out. And that's a look that, until now, took an extremely, extremely expensive machine to do.
FARMER: But now that the film look is available to the masses, it's created a fundamental shift, one that's not necessarily comfortable for industry veterans. Adam Rector owns a rental shop called The Video Company and says rates are falling.
Mr. ADAM RECTOR (Owner, The Video Company): Where budgets, you know, for music videos, you know, were, say, 50,000, you know, now they've dropped down to 20,000, you know, because the camera equipment is cheaper.
FARMER: Rector built his business on the premise that professional video cameras are just too expensive for most people to own. At the time, the technology was Betacam, which still run $50,000 or more.
Mr. RECTOR: Cameras keep getting cheaper and better. Yeah, we're in trouble, for sure.
FARMER: The only trouble for viewers is learning how to tell a home video from a Hollywood film.
For NPR News, I'm Blake Farmer in Nashville.