So you probably noticed (you didn't have to look too hard) that yesterday was "grind the axe" day, where I played cranky irascible middle-aged set-in-his-ways guy and picked at a few of the existential scabs that mar the smooth surface of my photographic psyche.
(Wow, that sentence just came out like that.)
To wit: 1.) the way nobody will build an affordable B&W digital camera; subset, the way those who don't want one would like to deny the rest of us the choice; 2.) the way Canikon only very begrudgingly gives the barest of nods to mirrorless, at the same time blithely ignoring the numberless smartphones massing at the edges of the Empire and threatening all of our futures; subset, the annoying way that the public is slow to get behind anything the industry behemoths don't tell them to get behind; and 3.) the way film and everything surrounding it is withering even though it's perfectly viable as a pleasing and rewarding niche in our hobby.
I didn't call yesterday "beat the dead horse" day, but I might as well have. Nobody's ever going to make a B&W digital camera, the bigs aren't going to help mirrorless, and the mindless mass of consumers are going to continue to slaughter film like hunters finishing off the last of the dodos. C'est la vie.
They ignore this at their peril
There's one other thing I didn't mention, which is that the cameramakers need to wake up and make some high-quality but super-simple-to-operate small cameras. And I mean super-simple. They have all this technology to make picturetaking easy yet still effective, but they refuse to offer it without forcing numberless choices and a bewilderingly tortuous path to mastery down the throats of anyone who buys their products. Any of their products. We like that, yes, and in fact demand it, but we're hobbyists. (And an ugly little secret: even many hobbyists haven't completely mastered everything their cameras can do, any more than I've mastered everything Photoshop can do.) The super-simplicity of smartphones is part of what's herding the public toward using them as cameras.
I really want a camera company to hire me to "design" (specify) a consumer product that would fill this niche. I could create something that would sell. And sell and sell. (That wish falls under the heading of "jousting at windmills" day.)
Work is the cure
But as for my psychological health, Photographic Division, I'm going to take the best advice I ever got: when things are picking at your brain, get out and do something real.
So, for instance, all along I've been saying that some of us (me included) "see the way the camera sees," which is what makes it easy to "see" in B&W when out and about with a camera that shoots only B&W, and difficult to ignore color with cameras that record color.
But is that really so?
I'm about to find out...or at least do a little experiment toward learning more about it. I have a Nikon DSLR, but no Nikon film camera except a couple of very old ones. But I found an old but still working Canon EOS-1v in the camera closet—for which I have no lens. So I rented a Zeiss 35mm ƒ/2 ZE lens from LensRentals. It should be here today. [UPDATE: I missed the truck! So, Friday, then.] So what I plan to do is get out a few times with the EOS loaded with B&W film, then get out with the DSLR intent on taking only B&W pictures—and see if I think there's really any difference in the way my brain works and my eyes see.
I can't promise it will be interesting, but gathering actual experience is usually a lot more constructive that sitting and fretting.
Since I'm going to shoot some B&W film, I'm next going to shoot some of the same film in a medium-format camera, and see if I can't revisit that old argument and draw a little new data there. The reason is that during my film years (essentially 1980–2000), I shot 35mm for convenience. Digital is now far more convenient that any kind of film, so it stands to reason that if one is going to shoot a little film in addition to shooting digitally, it doesn't hurt too much to deal with just a little more inconvenience. I plan to shoot the Canon against a Pentax 645N (SLR vs. SLR), and a Mamiya 7II with its 80mm normal lens against a Leica M7 with a 35mm ƒ/1.4 Summicron-ASPH (rangefinder vs. rangefinder).
At the very least, all this should make me happier, which is to say, less cranky. Whenever we get cranky about photography it's a sure sign that we need to go get out behind the camera and shoot. It cures a lot of ills.
ADDENDUM: I've made the B&W-only argument many, many times in varying levels of detail and depth. If you'd like chapter and verse, you can get it at this link. (Really only the first part is relevant, up to the header "Meta level.") If you don't agree, I understand. If it's not true for you, I understand. If you fail to understand because you refuse to understand, I can't help it.
Original contents copyright 2014 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Hugh Crawford (partial comment): "The problem is not 'getting rid of color' because that's easy. The problem is 'looking like someone's favorite film and developer combo.' Reasonably acceptable color is easy compared to satisfying both a T-Max fan and a thick emulsion fan. My feeling is that emulating the non-linear response of B&W film is more of a difficult problem than getting rid of the color information."
MartinP: "Why would anyone buy a small, super-simple camera when they can buy a small, super-simple camera including a smartphone and computer, for pretty much the same price??"
Mike replies: Why, for the same reason you bought a better camera, of course. For better high-ISO capability, better enlargeability, interchangeable lens choice, better handling, better viewfinding, etc.