My columns two and three back talked about a couple of logical fallacies that insinuate themselves into discussions of digital camera buying as more-or-less inevitabilities. Namely, that people would be looking for a camera that would last a lifetime (theirs, not the camera's) and that frequent upgrading of digital cameras followed from the way people used film. As I explained, those might hold for some people, but they didn't represent the historical norm and so they certainly weren't obligatory.
As a number of astute readers pointed out, those were entirely descriptive columns; they didn't discuss why and how it might be desirable to follow or ignore a particular course of action.
I meant to do that. Really. I wanted you all to think about what you need, not to react to pronouncements from me. Best way to let that happen? Don't pronounce.
This column, I'll be a bit more prescriptive, via retrospect.
I started out with Polaroid. As I've often said, it's what made me a serious photographer, and I rapidly moved through three model of camera and got into color, high-speed, and infrared film. After a few years of semi-professional Polaroid use, I got a 35mm camera. Worked exclusively in B&W for a year or so, then tried my hand at color printing. Loved it. Hated the films. Color print quality sucked in the late '60s. Felt I absolutely had to move to larger format, and so I did, acquiring a Pentax 67 only a few years after I started in 35mm.
I lucked out. The Pentax 67 proved to be my life's camera, despite the fact that I incorrectly expected to make a career as a photojournalist and to become enamored of view camera-type photography. Neither proved true, but the Pentax was still the right camera. I toyed with the idea of a 'Blad for a short time, but I had no serious interest.
Thing is, I didn't know enough at the time to be sure of making the right choice; I was too new at all of this. It was impossible to make a fully informed decision. As I said, I lucked out.
Digital cameras present some of the same problems. Despite the technology having over a 35 year history (leastwise, I've been working with it longer than that), equipment that we would consider remotely modern didn't start appearing until the 1990s, and most of us have a much shorter time of hands-on experience with it than that. And, by "us" I don't just mean end-users; I'm including the camera designers and manufacturers in that group. Collectively we're not a lot different from what I was in college—not inexperienced but far from having the mature knowledge that lets us know what we really want to be doing with a semi-novel medium.
We are mostly still figuring it out. Until we do, it's not going to be too surprising to see lots of manufacturers and people rapidly changing gear. That's just the way it works when, collectively, we're noobs.Featured Comment by Ed Hawco: "Speaking only in terms of the obsolescence of equipment, I still think there is a difference between how we outgrow digital and how we outgrew film cameras. The main difference is that back in the day when we felt we had outgrown that K1000 or whatever, the camera itself remained a perfectly good instrument. We'd sell it and move on to something else because our interests changed, not because the technology was obsolete. In the meantime, whoever we sold the equipment to could continue using it happily.
"With digital, we're more inclined to change equipment because the equipment has become obsolete. If we do manage to sell the old stuff, it's because some sap doesn't know it's a piece of hardware near the end of its life, or maybe they just want a cheap camera that they don't mind losing.
"The point being that in the old days the equipment was still good and usable when we were done with it, whereas nowadays cameras lose their value after only a few years, and then they become landfill.
"But like you say, we're still figuring this thing out."
Featured Comment by Oleg Volk: "Equipment upgrades are warranted when the cost of lost opportunities exceeds the upgrade cost. For example, I can get 95% sharp portrait images with 5D2 and USM 100mm macro vs. 10–15% with 10D and non-USM 100mm macro—upgrading is a pretty self-evident course of action. Keeping up with the industry demands is also necessary—stock photo sites or freelance clients won't take 3MP images as they need higher pixel count for print and even some web uses.
"P.S.: I put up a few photos of Ctein at work."