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                   Wednesday, September 3, 2008 - 7:49PM

I'm not a rich guy

25 Years of Storm Observing
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Materially speaking, that is. Ever since I got into the video business, I have always been interested in the new technologies and camera models that are coming out. The world's transition to high-definition has been especially interesting to keep up with. So as a result of running my own business coupled with my talking about some of this equipment, I find myself the subject of rumors that I'm a sellout rich guy with lots of money (made from storm video, sponsorships, etc) to throw around, treating a $30,000 camera like it's a toy I'd get just to play with for a while. It's kind of funny that to many, I have the negative reputation of the shady 'wealthy, high and mighty businessman' without actually doing anything to deserve it - not to mention not enjoying the financial benefits that normally would come with that reputation.

I live paycheck to paycheck now, I have for a long time. Why I'm sharing this on a public blog, I don't know - but what do I have to lose in saying it. The company I work for has been great with their flexibility, but being in West Virginia, our economy does not support most people having a comfortable income. We are working hard to get there, but it's been a long time coming. One of the reasons I got into stock video is that it offered the opportunity to bring in a little extra needed money every month. Getting into the video business wasn't easy. I had to buy all of my equipment on credit (not normally adviseable, but the banks would not give me a business loan). I took the risk and made the investment because I saw the potential for it to pay off through hard work, and for the most part, it did. I would have been able to keep this thing going in the long term, if it wasn't for the video market meltdown that happened in the past two years. My recent mistake was not shutting off the travel expenditures as soon as I saw the market dying in 2006, which means my revenue has fallen behind expenses. Add to that that last year's revenue spiked briefly (all of which went to pay off previous year's expenses), leaving me with a high tax bill. So, I've got some things to pay off for a while. It's not a dire crisis yet, since a few video sales over the next year or two could put me back in the black - but it's definitely not the big windfall that many people think I'm sitting here with.

No, I don't own this: Sony's HD XDCAM PDW-F350, about $45,000 with body, lens, tripod, case, rain cover, and batteries. You want good lightning and low light HD video for observing? This is what you'll need.

You don't have to be rich or have $16,000 or $30,000 or $50,000 laying around to buy or even talk about a professional camera. Those cameras are not things that 'rich guys' buy as luxury toys. They are tools that pros buy to make money. Most of the time, and any pro freelancer will tell you this, you don't normally have all that capital in cash to make the investment. You usually have to borrow money to make that kind of purchase (just like a house or car). Some guys have used their entire home equity to get a camera rig. They weren't rich guys with money to burn or obsessed with the latest toys, they did their homework and knew it would likely pay off. All you need to buy a pro camera (unless you ARE a rich guy) is to have a solid business plan that ensures that the investment pays for itself. I never had the money lying around to buy equipment, I had to borrow it like most business startups do. I knew that there was good potential for the investment to pay off, otherwise it would have been stupid to do it.

No, I don't own this either: Sony's HD XDCAM EX1, about $9,000 with camera, memory cards, tripod, case, rain cover, and batteries. Good for low light HD video for storm observing, but the CMOS chip will ruin all lightning footage.

If the video market ever returns (or if I am successful in getting enough corporate video work), I may look at the $16,000 cameras seriously - maybe even something higher-end than that. But I would never do it just to have the latest 'toy' - like most storm observers, I have never been able to afford to do that and probably never will.

Nope, don't have this one either: Panasonic's HVX-200, about $9,000 with camera, P2 memory cards, tripod, case, rain cover, and batteries. DVCPRO-HD codec is good for HD lightning video, but the low light performance on the camera is terrible for general observing use.

The point of this post? I'm more like the average observer than some would think. None of my equipment was handed to me - I borrowed money to do it and worked hard to pay it off, with all of the frustrations, anxieties and obstacles that come with that process. Unfortunately though, once you get into business for yourself, you're usually 'guilty until proven innocent' with your peers. Maybe saying all of this won't change everyone's mind, but hopefully it will for a few.

So what do I use for HD? The Sony HDR-FX1, about $4,000 with camera, tripod, rain cover, and batteries. This (and its cousin the Z1) is the only sub-$10k camera that can get usable video in most observing situations (lightning and modest low light), though it is lacking compared to the models above.

Sorry for the tangential issue here, back to watching Hanna now.

As always, great post Dan!
- Posted by Clarence from Nashville
I think it's absurd anyone would have accused you as such...they obviously don't know you.
- Posted by Lisa from STL

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