Image: Ariel Zambelich/Wired
We’re at the point of peak specs. It goes for all gadgets; people eschewing laptops for tablets suggests that, for many, simply having bigger hard drives and faster processors isn't everything. But it's especially true in the camera world. Cameras now are so good across the board that they'll rarely be the limiting factor in producing incredible video. Conversely, everyone has a killer camera, and to actually create something fresh takes a lot of work. The next step is to make those cameras work better, and that's what makes Vine so fascinating.
When Canon’s 5D Mark II came out, it was a legitimate gamechanger: featuring 22 megapixels and the capability to produce full HD professional video, it was a stunning deal at the time, and opened up a huge new world of high-quality filmmaking that had yet to fully blossom in the post-film age.
Now look at five years on: People are starting to get worked up about 4K and 3D video, despite few people even being able to watch it properly–and it adding, as of now, a negligible benefit to the viewer. I’ve now got a Nikon D800, which has a whopping 36 megapixel sensor–great for creating Internet hype, but honestly more than I’d ever want, to the point of being frustrating to deal with. Sure, it’s rad to be able to zoom in on a picture of a person across the street to check their hair for lice, but does it make me a better photographer? Hell no.
An actually good Vine! vine.co/v/bJwnA9qjYiH— Stewart Butterfield (@stewart) January 29, 2013
Nor does a RED camera make a better cinematographer. Talented people will always put the best gear to use. But the market is saturated with gear that’s technically stunning, anyone can whip up stylized cat videos with shallow depth of field and killer image quality. And everyone does: Legions of people have a quality camera now, and while the classic forum pro's lament that so many amateurs are using legit gear rings of nervous self doubt masked as elitism, it is true that people can no longer get YouTube views solely based on the novelty of their crazy new camera. Buying a camera like last year’s, but more so, has hit the point where it’s doing nothing to make you produce better images.
Which brings us to Vine. I suppose at this point I should note that I don't have an iPhone, so I unfortunately don't have Vine; if you want a review of the app itself or mock-surprise at Vine porn, you'll have to go somewhere else. I'm basing everything I know off of what I've seen people create, which has, so far, been pretty amazing.
Vine continues to be billed as the Instagram of video, which isn’t an apt comparison. Instagram, aside from its social aspects, is basically a tool to either mask the shittiness of many phone cameras or the shittiness of photos themselves with filters that, in many cases, aren't much more than another photographic novelty.
But Vine, rather than simply making a video look cool, is actually designed to change your process. Limiting clips to just a few seconds, while also offering the tools to quickly cut together those clips, is something far more interesting. Look at YouTube: While the quality of YouTube's programming has gone up tremendously–which takes a correspondingly tremendous amount of work–it's still fraught with viral hits that are filmed on a vertical phone (ugh) or that tell you to skip past the first two minutes of fluff to get to the 10 seconds of good stuff. Whatever camera they're filmed on, that's still a terrible experience. Yet users still put up with it, because there hasn't been anything else.
Compare that to one of the most powerful YouTube videos I've seen in ages. There's no context, but that's just a Google away. Instead, it's just 12 seconds of heavy breathing to match a pan of a burning street. It's stunning enough to make one think it might be some sort of viral ad, if people still do that.
Vine, by forcing people to work within a very set framework, brings that same sort of bare, lithe aesthetic. If sprawling YouTube clips show that no one really knows how to cut video these days, Vine shows what happens when people are forced to. They get more creative, and they're able to represent how they view their world far better than a throwaway Instagram ever could.
It's far easier to show people your own vision through video than through stills, probably because even a couple seconds of moving pictures can add more context to even mundane situations. A Vine of someone tossing their phone into a desk trash can is a hell of a lot more interesting than a photo of the same thing.
technology belongs in the garbage vine.co/v/b5pJ1YHFEHU— ᴅᴀɴ ɴᴏsᴏᴡɪᴛᴢ (@dannosowitz) January 24, 2013
That's not to mention the huge number of raw, aggressively cut experimental clips and humorous three-scene videos (that resemble comic strips, really) that I've already seen. I have no clue if Vine is a pain in the ass to use, and can't predict whether or not it'll take off for reporting like Twitter and Instagram have, although that's likely.
As for its long-term viability, I do see Vine sticking around. What's truly excellent about the service for viewers–and reaching viewers is the whole point of using a camera, is it not?–is that it's forced a shakeup of how we treat video online. First, it's rad to already see people making brain-assaulting Vines with nothing more than clips of strange source material filmed off their monitor. But it's also making video more accessible as a story-telling tool. A minute-long static shot of a protest is interesting, but it's not great. Vine, by nature of shrinking the amount of time you have to work with, forces you to find shots that actually have impact.
Whether Vine succeeds is yet to be seen, but its model is what needs to come next for cameras. The iterative grind of cameras that slightly better specs can't go on for much longer; if nothing else, dealing with 75 megabyte photo files and 4K video just makes workflow a giant pain in the ass. Users are only interested in features that help them produce better images, and we're at the point where technical specs are fairly irrelevant in that regard.
Instead, it's a matter of offering software and apps that are designed specifically to push users through a workflow, rather than filming random footage and hoping for the best. Once the new app sheen wears off, it's going to remain a valuable tool because it, more than any camera in recent memory, is helping people produce great content. Vine is a success in that regard, and camera makers better pay attention. Who is going to produce a Vine that's baked into DSLRs? That, far more than tech specs, is going to sell the next generation of cameras.