« iPhone Fail | Main | Random Excellence: Lawrence Schiller »

Tuesday, 03 April 2018


This is true for life in general.

There are "satisficers" and "maximizers." Some get what they need, stop and relax or move on with something else. Others relentlessly pursue more.

I find myself more of a satisficer. Once beyond satisfactory you get into diminishing returns. More and more effort for less and less marginal satisfaction.

This probably explains my acceptance of phone photography. I already have the phone, which contains a pretty satisfactory camera, better at most photography than I am, so quite often good enough.

We have definitely achieved "more than good enough", and it's about time. This happened with computers about a decade ago (roughly); for most people (gamers excepted) computers have become appliances. How many people who use Microsoft Word use more than 10% of the features available? I'd bet not a lot.

With cameras, we've long since crossed the sufficiency floor for the vast majority of photographers. People with specialized needs will benefit from new features, but even sophisticated serious photographers can be very happy with what's available now. This is probably bad for the industry because the upgrade cycle will slow down significantly. Case in point: not even IBIS is enough to make me upgrade my Fuji X-T2 to the X-H1. Even an X-H1 that had a 36MP sensor wouldn't be enough to motivate an upgrade; the added resolution wouldn't make a significant difference for me. It doesn't help that my excellent Fuji XF lenses languish in a camera bag while I'm busy shooting old adapted lenses because that's what I prefer to do.

Small, a good viewfinder, simple interface, must feel nice in my hand and against my face, and general all round nice-to-use-ness.

I'd like but don't need more pixels and more dynamic range.

I personally know a recent Magnum nominee, who shot nearly all his photos that made him the nominee with a film Nikon (I don't remember what model it was, but I think it was FM2) and a kit lens. Since becoming a professional (i.e., becoming a Magnum nominee), he got himself a used Contax (again, don't remember the model but I think it is a G1) and a single lens. I believe he still shoots with it, and his iPhone/Android.

None of my three cameras is inadequate. Intellectually I know that if I wanted the most "keepers" I would use my micro four-thirds camera. It's very accurate when focusing, easy to get exposure right, and has some very sharp lenses. But I tend to use my K1 because it's a little more fun, and when I get an image right, I really like it. Definitely a less easy camera to use, but maybe that's part of the fun sometimes.

Mike, that's a great way to look at cameras. Recognizing just which features and precisely which level of performance for said features are essential to your photography (and, conversely which are irrelevant) can prevent a lot of buyer's remorse.
The overwhelming majority of what I photograph is traditional landscape images, often stitched pano's, frequently printed very large. So for me, resolution trumps most everything else, along with an excellent optical viewfinder that works in bright sunlight, and good weather sealing. Every other feature is less important.

Canon's 5DSr does everything I want, when used carefully from a very solid tripod with good glass. Its dynamic range is sufficient for what I shoot, with occasional use of a grad filter. Its frame rate is plenty fast enough. Its mediocre video is irrelevant to me, as is its substantial weight and size. Its autofocus is sufficient for the few times I use it; almost everything I shoot is carefully manually focused, or focus-stacked, to maximize depth of field. I briefly flirted with the idea of Fuji's lovely GFX 50s, but the gain in image quality appears too modest to justify the added cost, limited lens line, and slower operation.

Hand me a Sony A9 and I wouldn't know what to do with it. 20 FPS is pointless to me. The same goes for high end video capability. About the only area where I'd like a little more sufficiency would be dynamic range and shadow noise.

We're fortunate to have such wonderful toys....er, tools... at our disposal.

The systems engineer in me wants to say that requirements are driven by needs, and equipment either fulfills requirements or it doesn't. As long as different photographers have different needs, there will be different sets of requirements. I don't need a fast frame rate. My wife's Nikon has it (9 FPS or something like that) and it annoys me when my gentle, non-vibration-inducing press of the shutter gives me four or five lost chunks of memory storage before my brain issues the reverse gear to my finger. I have to set the camera to single-shot mode. Semi-automatic for me.

Which reminds me, I used to have a Motor Winder A on my Canon F-1 back in the deeps of time. I think it was 2.5 FPS or something like that. That was about right.

But I have been going bigger. I have not run out of the lust for more and better pixels, and sensors measured by the acre. I have a Pentax 645z on the way. One requirement I had was access to a current stock of decent lenses. I'll pay a lot for a digital camera, because I'm buying a camera and some years worth of film all in one package, but I love getting very nice lenses off of ebay for $150. My requirement for all that is: A sense of endless detail in a 16x20 print from any viewing distance, without having to perform magick beyond traditional good technique to get it.

I have two high FPS cameras (10FPS and 9FPS), and I find that the first frame in a sequence is almost always the best one in terms of timing the action. I've also limited the number of frames for each camera so I can only take bursts of 5 with each button press, so I don't waste space or time later on. One of them can supposedly take 200 continuous RAW frames at 10FPS without pause, which seems completely absurd and gratuitous.

Ironically, the cameras usually only reach their 5-frame burst limit when I switch cameras: as I pick up one camera while putting the other down, I sometimes hit the trigger-happy shutter button on it, and have a great sequence of the floor or ceiling, out of focus.

I've performed this sort of features analysis a few times now, most recently when Sony released the A7RIII.

As often happens, nearly every one of its new or improved features has very little, if any, relevance to my particular needs or wants.

Ditto for the A7RII that came before, which is why I am still using an A7R even though it's by no means a perfect camera.

I have noticed that, historically, first generation cameras typically work best for me, as subsequent generations of cameras are often compromised in various ways as the manufacturers try to increase their appeal to a broader segment of the market.

It's funny, your list of things you value in cameras intersects to a high degree with mine. I've also used to just shoot single frames (be the camera set to single frame per shutter release press or it just having a frame rate slow enough that there was no risk of me accidentally releasing the shutter again), but now I think you may have convinced me to set the frame rate to something "better" than single.

Canon 20D was/is adequate. So that's some 12 years ago or thereabouts...

The only thing I really like about newer cameras is the high ISO. I occasionaly borrow a 5Dmk3 and use 6400 like I use 800 on the 20D. Everything else is just nice to have but I don't care much about it. Certainly nothing worth upgrading for.

I now have two cameras for which the "Lo" setting for continuous picture taking is already too fast for me. I think I calibrated my brain to my Nikon D3 "Lo" setting -- about 2 frames per second. The Olympus and Pentax Lo settings are like Lo-on-steroids. LoRoids?

My must have features are deck-top +/- exposure compensation and ISO control. Having to go into the menus for those features just steams my oats, and makes any "A" setting much less useful. Grrr.

I had thought that IBIS was a must-have feature, but once I had cameras with that feature, I realized they weren't optimal for long lenses, where I needed the feature most. Hmmm. Suckered by the marketing department once again (or call it a research failure, if you want to heap responsibility on the purchaser).

Features I really like on the Pentax, but are not must-haves: AA battery option, obsolescence-resistant DNG RAW files, and the option for square images (silly, but fun).

What I'd really like? A camera that knows what I mean, rather than what I say.

This sounds a little like the male fear of inadequacy. Truth is there is always something/someone better out there somewhere along some axis or other.

I recently attended a photo seminar and spoke with the Sony rep about the new A7R111. I was impressed with many of the features but when I learned that it records a 45 megapixel image I lost my enthusiasm. There are some features that can be a negative. That sensor permits high ISO images but the file size is much too cumbersome. What was your experience with the Nikon D800?

Yes adequate is fine, but you need one thing in you bag that blows you away. These days I shoot a Fuji (xe3), but back in that day I used Contax(159 and RTS II). I still have some of the lenses, and I use an adapter to shoot them on my Fuji. Technically the Fuji lenses are superb, but there is something about the Planar 100/2 that I pine for... On the Fuji it suffers from flare, and I can see some fringing... but still...

For me, a straw lifeguard's hat is adequat. Anything smaller will not protect my neck from the sun, or the screen of my P&S/iCamera from the same.

With respect to how many FPS is enough? Eight. In 15 years of shooting motor racing with Canon 1D-series, I found that to be the sweet spot. Fast enough to catch fast racing action when required, and not so many you had zillions of files to cull for selects, or more importantly, burn up the Number 1 requirement for pro photojournalists: shutter life.

FWIW, I hardly ever shoot 8 frames in a sequence, generally 2 or 3 frames in a fraction of a second are plenty sufficient. The old "double-tap" approach works well.

Never thought of using continuous shooting for candid portraits. Fabulous! Thanks Mike. Though I would say CH on Fuji is what, 11fps or 14fps? Isn't that a bit more than "adequate" for the purpose (unless you want to make a stop motion of someone blinking their eyes)/

Some modern Pany and Oly bodies have the ability to shoot 1 to 2 seconds of "motor drive" shooting *BEFORE* you pressed the shutter.

How can anything less than that be enough? :)

I think you have a very valid point there. While I would quite like to upgrade from the X-Pro1 and XT1 to something newer and more advanced, I know the cameras I own are producing images that more than stand up in terms of quality.

Wasn’t the original Leica the “good enough” camera of its time?

In 'iPhone Fail', you claim that "The reason is that I seem to visualize pictures better on the phone's viewing screen than I do using any other kind of viewfinder." But in the 'Sufficiency' post, you say "Personally, I value good viewfinders...". I'm a bit confused. Would you consider an LCD screen a viewfinder? I wouldn't, not after using my Epl5 and GX1 outdoors (there's an example of sufficiency for you: I've never felt the need to 'move up' any further). It was only after I bought a VF3 that I could use the Epl5 comfortably outdoors (still hunting for a DMW-LVF2 for the GX1 - it's proving hard to get here in India; will probably have to get one through a friend going to the US next month).
So ...any comment(s) on the viewfinder thing?

I would like, heck love, a Pen F but I do understand that my E-P3 really is adequate. Especially now that I have a fast normal prime (Panasonic 25/1.8).

Mike, Digital equipment makers will never let us have just adequate machines. For them "If it works, it is obsolete". That is the way they make us buy newer and no so needed, not so better, things. It is in their interest. I was absolutely happy with the 6 MP camera I had. I could not get a replacement for that when it broke down, without any hope repair. I still believe 6MP is all that we need. But there is no way we can get one. For them it is "more the merrier". Small is not beautiful for them. It is big bucks that counts for them.

>>I guess because it's adequate.

It's funny how the word "adequate" can have a slightly pejorative implication these days, as if adequate really isn't quite good enough. I guess it depends on what noun it modifies. It's one thing to describe a camera or lens as adequate and quite another to describe one's spouse or love making skills the same way.

Shout out to the camera company product planners who all read TOP.
One of the features that I feel is missing on some cameras is a way to slow the “motor drive” mode.
20 FPS may be useful sometimes, but sometimes what you want is 2 or 3 or 6 FPS .

One of the things I dislike most about digital cameras is that the manufacturers are always trying to give us more. More features, more focus points, more, more, more. I don't want more. I want less! My favourite camera by a long margin is my Contax G1. Aperture priority only. One center focus point only. Exposure compensation DIAL on the top plate. Truly, I don't need more.

My first motorized camera was my Fujica AZ-1. its add on "Auto Winder" would wind the film after each shot. In order to get the next shot, you had to release and press the shutter button again, so technically it was not a motor drive. I used it once or twice and bought it to save me time between shots where winding my Fujica's of the time was manual and forced me to move the camera from my eye.

Next "motor drive" was my Pentax SF-1. Hated the automatic winding and I could not turn it off. My current Pentax DSLR's all have "burst" mode that are 3 frames per second to 7.3 frames per second. On my last vacation, I used the 7.3 frames per second at the Highland games at Loch Lomond. Two hundred and twenty five images of mostly guys in kilts with perhaps 10 or so decent shots.

I am not really a fan of high frame per second "motor drive" shooting. However, I can see where it has its place.

Kyocera is short for Kyoto Ceramic. Their black series ceramic knives are one of the best around. Just sharing on their other product.

"Adéquation" is a very relative thing. Relative for the context, relative for the user, relative for the sharing task, relative for the fashion trend, etc. (Still) Cameras as a tool can be evolutive over time but the images (prints) resulting of them are (more) timeless and will long survive after the obsolescence of the photo equipment.

It is a strange word. Maybe it is more descriptive of the user, than the used. High maintenance = Adequacy impaired.

How about this: My_____________meets my needs for now. YMMV.

With best regards,


Once upon a time, Rolls-Royce would say only that its cars produced "sufficient" horsepower.

Running behind on posting comments or did "adequate" not inspire/provoke your army of readers to respond ? It seems that the search for that adequate combination of gear and chemistry and now electronic technology is what drives so many photographers on their paths of gear acquisition. Surely there are many stories out there about that search for sufficiency and how it seemed to come up short of the imagined result, or in some cases, stories that relay the successful attainment of that elusive combination that lets the photographer achieve the results he wants in the manner he wants them....the Leicameter on the M-4 for color negative or sunny 16 and Tri-X ? Follow focus with the new zoom and aperture priority ? Wow-motor drive--for fast rewinds or fps? Oh my--auto focus actually works and K64. Great transparencies but how do I share that knock out IQ without a slide projector ? How to get help to get slides to prints ?? Tiny P&S precede the digital tide, and suddenly look at what Kodak did with a Nikon and here come Nikons and Canons in DIGITAL ! How many stops and staggers along the way and at every movement of the hardware, chemicals and software, wherever we go, there we are ! Seems like there are some powerful threads intertwined in there somewhere !

Just a few days ago, I went camera shopping with my daughter in-law who wanted something a bit better than her camera phone for an upcoming Mexican holiday.

Happily she had not got her head messed up with advertising hype, and had not read any reviews - just left it to me. She also had a tiny budget.

Anyway, I was able to get her a Canon 350D with the kit zoom in mint condition from a local dealer with a 6 month warranty for £79. As I got him to throw in a 16gb CF card (worth £30), the real cost of the camera and lens was just £49 ... less than a reasonable restaurant meal.

Any you know what? It takes fine images. Sure, you can find things that could be better if you try hard enough, but she just wants some pics for albums or the wall.

Yes, it's only 8mb, but then so was my top end pro Canon 1D II of not that long ago.

If one has a sensible appreciation of "adequate" there are some real bargains to be had.

BTW - I switched from big Canons to Oly m4\3 some time back as I found the Oly gear to be (more than) adequate for my shooting.

An example presented itself today: I'm trying to photograph old slides using an ancient Nikon PB4 bellows, slide duplicator, and Micro-Nikkor. Maybe by doing so I'll make a dent in that vast backlog of digitizing old Kodachromes too dear to send to a service, and for which my Nikon scanner is simply too slow.

I know the lens and bellows part of it will work, adapted to my Canon. But my photos were grainy beyond belief. The problem was my Canon 5D--now 13 years old. It had always been adequate for my needs, but today it wasn't. The sensor on that camera captures 2800 pixels/inch at 1:1--just the resolution that on film scanner caused aliasing with fine-grained films.

The solution: A few more megapixels. So, I upgraded my 5D to...a 5DII, now nine years old, at about one fifth the price of the current 5DIV. At more like 4000 pixels/inch (like my Nikon scanner), it should not resonate with the old Kodachrome grain.

When I roamed my college campus with a 50 mm and a manual SLR body in 1979, I had enough to make pictures that would be published. I should have stopped there. Instead, I accumulated enough advanced and heavyweight photographic technology to make realize I don’t want to carry all that stuff around. Now, I go out to shoot with one lens, a rangefinder, and a couple of rolls of film. Most of the time I make pictures that me happy. Go figure.

When I roamed my college campus with a 50 mm and a manual SLR body in 1979, I had enough to make pictures that would be published. I should have quit shopping then. Instead, I've accumulated enough high-tech, heavyweight photographic technology to the point where I don’t want to carry all that stuff around. Now, when I go out to shoot with one lens, a rangefinder, and a couple of rolls of film, I make pictures that make me happy. Go figure.

The comments to this entry are closed.