First, I wanted to mention that I had a very nice experience yesterday with Nathan Benn's Kodachrome Memory. My copy arrive yesterday in the mail, from Nathan himself. (Along with a beautiful small print of this picture! Thanks so much, Nathan.) It's rich work, and will be worthy of repeated visits. It's not unlike Eggleston, and will appeal to people who like Eggleston, except I think Benn may be a better photographer.
Sorry, that's one of those opinions you are not allowed to express, because it steps outside of accepted conventions. I'm afraid I do it all the time, in my mind.
He reminds me of Sam Abell, too. I do think Nathan is one of the few photographers I know of who can really handle color, and Sam is another.
Believe it or not, my main reservation about the book is the title. I think the photographs are much more significant as photography than just idle nostalgia for an old film. I guess "Kodachrome Memory" will help it sell, because it will seem nice and contained—demystified—for the general public, but it's a bit like titling Hamlet "A Danish ghost story" or the Mona Lisa "A commissioned portrait." Too flat and literal by half.
But I'll talk more about the book after it's available. On to my topic for today:
I mentioned recently that I visited my uncle Smokie Polk* and cousin Pam when I went to Michigan last weekend. My aunt Mary wasn't there—she was off canoing in the Boundary Waters of Canada (alone, at age 74, more or less!). But my uncle asked me a question at dinner I thought was telling. He said that Mary wanted a camera that would give good quality pictures (he emphasized that several times) but that was very simple to use. She used to have a Contax T2, I think, and she wants a digital camera that's at least as simple as that.
I had to tell him I don't think there is one—despite the hundreds of cameras on the market.
I still wonder why that's so. Even cellphone manufacturers can manage the trick, with the famous Samsung Jitterbug, for the technology-phobic. I really think this is one reason why normal citizens like cameraphones—many of them are so bog-simple. You call up the camera app and you get a go button and not a lot else. Frame, shoot, take what you get. Which is often quite good—my sister-in-law confessed somewhat sheepishly to me last night that she gets better pictures with her phone than she does with her digital p/s.
But camera manufacturers don't seem constitutionally capable of making a super-simple camera. They must be deeply convinced that the complexity of the feature set (which certainly does appeal to a lot of us) is an indivisible part of how they add value to their product, and the temptation to add more and more is something they can't forswear even for one product. I mean, with hundreds of cameras on the market, wouldn't you think they could make one that was super-simple, just for that segment of the population that wants it? And market it that way. You'd think. But no.
I think it's one of the "stealth reasons" why cellphones are encroaching on the camera market so rapidly. Not the only reason, not the main reason, but a reason. (I also think that as cameraphones gain an ever-enlarging share of the camera market, the cameras in them will inexorably get more complicated.)
As always, I could be wrong, etc.
*Real name Albert, making him, of course, my uncle Albert.
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(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Ed Hawco: "It is my humble opinion that the complexity of modern digital cameras is due to them being designed by engineers and software makers instead of by photographers and camera makers. They have an entirely different mind set; they see cameras as 'gadgets' and they set out to exploit every possible thing they can do. It's their mind-set—and their job—to push the technology, to reveal all, and to leave no possibility unexpoited. Whereas photographers and (old-school) cameramakers are more likely to think in terms of the prime objective (no pun intended) of framing and exposing an image, and the few basic controls that affect the outcome. There is a huge chasm between those two ways of thinking."
Steve Rosenblum: "I would get Aunt Mary a Panasonic TS5 and tell her to set it on Intelligent Auto mode and shoot away. I own the TS3, which is an earlier version that I bought to take with me when fishing. It is one of those cameras that is impervious to almost everything (truly waterproof, shock proof, etc.) so she need not fear taking it to the Boundary Waters, and it takes good quality photographs. It has simple controls.
"Yes, it has a number of features that she doesn't need such as GPS tagging, HD Video, etc., but she need not worry about those—she can either ignore them or turn them off. It doesn't record RAW files, but I doubt she needs that, and the JPEGs it does record look very good to me in most situations. Given your description of her and her activities I suspect it would be a perfect choice for her."
Tom V: "Quite right! I have been selling cameras for a big box retailer for six years, and every manufacturers rep who comes in I tell them I need two things: a very simple camera, and a camera with a viewfinder. When a customer comes in and asks, 'What's the simplest camera for my 80-year-old mother?,' I reply, 'How about an iPhone?' When the customer comes in and asks for 'that peephole on the camera you look through,' I point them to a Canon G15 and say, 'that's about it.'"
Daniel S.: "Don't blame us Software Engineers; when we design a product for ourselves, results are quite elegant and simple—just look at UNIX, for example. So powerful it's the system of choice in the corporate world, and yet so simple, people have rewritten it from scratch in their spare time; imagine building yourself a fully-functional D800e in your basement for comparison purposes.
"No, problems start when we start having to cater to you, normal people, and the reason why is self-evident once you read the replies to this post: 'just give me a camera with controls for focus, exposure and ISO,' 'put everything on auto and don't let me change anything,' 'make it fixed focus, but with autoexposure,' 'maybe add HDR and panoramas,' etc. Define the smaller superset that fulfills all the provided requirements, and you end up...with any of the cameras out currently on the market.
"Honestly, just give them anything your budget allows, then use duct tape over any setting your intended user doesn't fully understand. You guys manage to use Windows and OSX just fine, don't you? and yet, I assure you: you don't even know how to use half its capabilities. How do I know? I don't even know how to use half its capabilities, and I'm a professional Software Engineer — the key is, ignore anything you don't fully understand, and rely on the sane defaults picked by engineers and usability experts who hopefully did."
Eric: "I was going to say the Leica M, thinking about my years as a newspaper photographer shooting with an M6, and the 35mm and 75mm ƒ/1.4's for about 80 percent of my work. SLRs were for sports.
"But Leica put video in the M. That's about the worst example of this trend I can think of.
"Don't get me wrong. I shoot with a D800 now. I use some of its special features (including video on occasion) but only what helps. The level indicator has made my horizons level to a degree I simply can't do without it. But most of the custom functions are lost on me. It's the best camera I've ever used, including film cameras of medium and large format. (Hasselblad, Rollei, Sinar). But what I love about it most is that it just does the job without much fuss. It's so reliable and capable I can forget about it and shoot.
"As for Nathan Benn, I met him once. Really nice guy. I'm going to have to get this book!"
B. J. Segel: "I was walking around downtown tonight and saw a fellow break away from the group he was with and pose in front of a mural painted on the wall. 'Hey, look a this,' he shouted. 'Aw, gee,' said a woman in his group. 'I don't have a phone with me.' You're right, Mike. The phone has become today's Instamatic."